A reader writes:
I moved away from home, and got into a bad crowd a couple of years ago. I made some crappy decisions, the biggest one being that I was working in a strip club/business for about three years. Now, obviously, I cannot be absolutely honest in that particular job aspect, and having no tax forms to show I worked there, it's hard to trace. My dad, who knows the situation, told me to put down that I worked for him doing administrative work for those years. I am experienced (worked and took a class) in the basic duties of administrative work, and every test that I have had to take I have done well in (Microsoft Excel, Data Entry 10-Key, Typing). I know that it is basically dishonest to fudge my employment record, but I know the programs, that is what I put as my knowledge, and my dad will back me up.
The problem is this: I get only so far into the interview process, until I sign the form consenting to a background check, and then -- no calls, or outright denied employment. I've been reading your site for awhile now (and have remarkably improved my rusty interviewing skills -- thanks), and figure you could give me an insight on things. Should I say I was an independent contractor for those years? What do employers look up on background checks? I'd appreciate your feedback.
Well, as I'm sure you know from reading this blog, lying about past employment isn't a good idea. You might be better off not making up past employment and not mentioning the strip clubs, and simply starting with no job history. You wouldn't be the first. It will pose an added challenge, for sure, but then you won't be living in fear of the lie being uncovered.
But you don't need me to tell you that, and I'm in a sympathetic mood, so let's move to the substance of your question.
What kind of background checks are these companies doing? If they're looking at your credit report, they may be seeing a red flag in that you have no reported employers for the period in question. However, if they deny your application based information they find in your credit report, they're required by the credit reporting laws to tell you that. So if you're not receiving those notices, that's not what's happening. So let's assume it's not that. A more general background check could also reveal past employers (and in your case, it sounds like they'd find none for that period, which would be suspicious).
But I think there's something else going on, although I don't know what it is. Are there people they might be calling for references who aren't giving the sort of reference you want? (Keep in mind that companies aren't limited to just the list of references they hand them; they can and do also call other employers on your resume.)
It's also possible -- maybe even likely -- that there's nothing going on here; it's a hard economy and your work history isn't extensive, and maybe it's not about this at all. That's a real possibility.
I suggest trying to get some feedback from some of these companies you've applied to. Plenty won't give you any, but you might get lucky and get someone who tells you something useful. In order to have any chance of anyone being honest with you, you need to be really, really clear (in words and in tone) that you are not trying to debate the decision, just trying to get an understanding of why you're not getting job offers. Make them want to help you. There's some advice on how to do that here.
What input do others have?